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English > Vocabulary > Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players!”. One of the most memorable lines in the English language, this sentence is a perfect example of figures of speech. They help lend the prose a lyrical and fresh quality. Let us learn more about figures of speech.

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Figures of Speech
Phrasal verb

Figures of Speech

Language can be used in two ways – literally and figuratively. Literal language is direct and uses the real definition and meanings of words and phrases. But when we talk figuratively, the meaning of any word/phrase will depend on the context in which they are used. A figure of speech relies on such figurative language and rhetoric.

When using figures of speech the words will diverge from their literal meanings, to give a more stylized and specialized meaning to these words. Let us take for example the phrase”fast like lightning”. This phrase merely implies great speed, it does not mean literally as fast as lightning. Example: “On hearing the school bell the kids ran out of the class as fast as lightning”.¬†

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(Source: flickr)

Types of Figures of Speech

Now there are dozens of types of figures of speech. But here we will be focussing on the five main ones we use in our daily prose.

1] Simile

A simile is a figure of speech that uses comparison. In a simile, we use two specific words “like” and “as” to compare two unlikely things, that actually have nothing in common. This is done to bring out the dramatic nature of the prose and invoke vivid images and comparisons. It is one of the most common forms of a figure of speech and is used in everything from day-to-day talk to poems.

Let us see some examples of simile. “She is as brave as a lion”. Here you will notice a girl and her bravery are being compared to a lion. this is an unusual and illogical comparison, but it brings out the vivid imagery and lyrical quality in the sentence. The literal sentence would have read “She is brave”, but using the simile makes it sound much better. Other such examples can be

  • quite like a mouse
  • as tall as a mountain
  • as strong as an ox
  • precious like an angel

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2] Metaphor

A metaphor and a simile are quite similar actually. A metaphor also uses compares to things that are in no way similar. It does so to bring out the symbolism. A metaphor is a word or phrase used to show its similarity to another thing. It helps to explain an idea, but if you take a metaphor at its literal meaning it will sound absurd.

An example of a metaphor is “Alex is a chicken”. Literally, this sounds so very absurd. But this is a metaphor which suggests that Alex is a coward, or frightened. It compares or implies that Alex is a chicken to bring out the symbolism. Some other examples are ‘love is a battlefield”, “all the world’s a stage”, “that technology is a dinosaur” etc.

While a simile and metaphor seem to be very similar, there is one basic difference between the two. In a simile, the comparison happens with the help of the words “as” and “like”. A metaphor will not have either of those two words.

3] Personification

Another very interesting figure of speech is personification. In this, we personify or represent a non-human entity as human. We give an inanimate object or an intangible idea of some human qualities such as emotions, or gestures or even speech. this is done to portray the object as alive and help the listener or reader paint a vivid picture. Again, if we take the words at their literal meaning they will sound absurd.

“The wind howled as the storm grew stronger”. Here we have taken an object, the wind, and personified it as a living thing by claiming it howled. Other such examples could be, “time ran away from him”, “the boat danced in the puddle”, “the car died in the middle of the road” etc.

Learn more about Parts of Speech here

4] Hyperbole

Hyperbole in the Greek language translates to ‘excess’. And that is what it does, it exaggerates. We use hyperboles to emphasize the importance or overstate something. This exaggerates claims and statements are never meant to be taken at their literal meaning. They are used to create a strong and lasting impression

An example would be “Since he has been away from home he has gotten as thin as a toothpick“. Obviously, he has not gotten as thin as a toothpick, we only exaggerate to emphasize on how thin he has become. Some other examples are, “Those shoes cost a king’s ransom”, “For the millionth time, clean the kitchen”, “his grandfather is older than the hills”.

5] Onomatopeia 

This is a figure of speech where words or phrases indicate sounds. Often to bring about more imagery and better describe a setting, authors use words to involve all five of our senses. Onomatopeia refers to those words that imitate the sounds of an object or person.

For example “The bees buzzed around in the garden”. Here the word ‘buzzed’ is indicating the sound coming from the bees. Some other examples are “the leaves were rustling”, “the door was squeaking”, “he closed the book with a thud” etc.

Learn the difference between ‘Single Inverted Comma and Double Inverted Comma.”

Solved Question for You

Q: Identify the figure of speech in the following

  1. The cat ran away like the wind
  2. Suddenly in the middle of the night, the dog started barking.
  3. Variety is the spice of life

Ans: The figures of speech are as follows

  1. Simile. The cat (and its speed) speed is compared to the wind. And since the word ‘like’ is used, it is a simile
  2. Onomatopeia. Barking is a word that indicates sound.
  3. Metaphor. Here the two things are compared without the use of ‘as’ or ‘like’. The sentence indicates that one of the things is similar to the other.
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